Belgium – 1
World Cup 2014 Qualification: Group A – 15th October 2013
So that’s the way the campaign ends, not with a bang, but with a wimper.
You see, Wales’ “golden generation” campaign didn’t progress as well as most Welsh were quietly hopeful after the European Championship campaign started. It seems to be a bit of a gallows humour amongst the Welsh faithful that we play better when the campaign is lost – something true of this one after we mathematically had nothing to play for after a defeat to Macedonia. As such we began picking up points, defeating Macedonia at home before going to the last game against Belgium.
Belgium themselves have their own golden generation, but unlike the Welsh, they have excelled themselves, qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years with relative ease. Looking through the side you can see why: Kompany, Hazard, Lukaku, Benteke on their own would get into any team anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of Lukaku at Chelsea). When you consider that Mingolet – one of Europe’s best keepers – can only make the bench, you can see why this golden generation is a lot of people’s outside shot to do well in the finals.
We arrived in Belgium the Sunday before the match for a day to look around and a few beers. This was a family affair as well as local affair – my brother made his first trip on a Wales away visit, consigning him to a lifetime of dejection. However he was due to arrive on the Monday, and the Sunday saw us find the famous Delerium bar, to have a beer or two.
Monday saw us take a quick look around the city, before heading out to view a couple of football grounds – FC Brussels and Anderlecht. The first one in particular was interesting as I always like viewing lower league football grounds in other countries, and see how they compare to Conference North standards – this would’ve been a “borderline may meet ground grading” at best.
The next day, we headed for a smaller look around the city, before I met my brother. We kind of got the other side to Wales away with him – rather than enjoy Belgian beers, they found the first Irish Bar and drank themselves silly on cheap rubbish. Each to their own but I preferred the beers I was drinking the night before – though to be honest as far as Wales away goes this was a relatively sober affair.
We arrived at the stadium and us being us we got off at the wrong stop – or rather the stop that wasn’t closest to the Welsh away end, but instead we walked through an army of Belgian fans. Like all the Belgians we spoke to on our trip, they were respectful and very friendly, I suppose the fact that the game was effectively a party made them a lot more welcoming but I am pretty sure they would be the same even if there was something to play for.
We walked through a wall of Beglian fans that descended on the stadium, everything though was happy and smiley, rather than troublesome. It was a cracking atmosphere that wasn’t dampened by the dismal weather.
After looping the stadium, we found our entrance where at that point I proceeded to lose my companions. Nevertheless, I took a seat inside the stadium.
The stadium was massive! It was probably not as big a Wembley, but because we were placed in the upper tier corner away from the pitch we could see everything. The view was fantastic but there was no way – unlike other trips – we weren’t going to outsing our Belgian rivals for the night.
The game kicked off and Wales started amazingly how they did against Scotland, by playing keep-ball for the first 3 or 4 minutes. It actually was surprisingly effective, as it took a little bit of the sting out of the game. Belgium did eventually get a few chances, but nothing concrete – Lukaku had a double chance but in a half full of less than-half chances, it was probably no suprise that the game remained 0-0 at the break.
We were treated to a Belgian rapper at half time, rap a few songs which got chants of “who are you?” from the visiting contingient – the natives seemed to enjoy it though. More abuse from the Welsh was aimed at the referee, who let some strange decisions go, including what appeared to be a stonewall penalty for Simon Church after he was seemingly bundled over in the box.
The referee didn’t get any better in the second half, particularly when Ramsay was bundled over just on the outskirts of the box. It was a clear foul and play stopped, only for the ref to not blow the whistle. Both sides were taken aback by the decision, which – when play stopped for a less inocuous tackle no more than 15 meters away, Bellamy marked his last match in a way only he knows – getting booked for gobbing off to the (admittedly terrible) official.
It got worse for Wales when an appearingly harmless throw in found it’s way to Kevin de Bruyne in the box and he scored, sending the Belgians into a frenzy. It was deserved but in the same way undeserved, as the visitors had played well keeping one of the World Cup favourites at bay for nearly 70 minutes.
After the goal Belgium pressed for a second, having a few decent but nothing clear-cut, but Wales had the chance to equalise: Wales had 3 shots in the area that brought either a diving save or a block, but it seemed like all hope for a point was lost until the 88th minute, where Arron Ramsay found himself in the box and, from an acute angle, he slotted the ball inside the goal sending the Welsh fans into a frenzy. They had a chance to win it too, but a square ball into the box was a bit behind the retiring Bellamy, and it wasn’t to be. In fairness a 2-1 win wouldn’t be quite justified, and we’d rain on the parade of our hopefuls. A 1-1 draw saw the Welsh fans go home happy.
To be honest, I doubt the Belgians cared about the result – as afterwards they were treated to a congratulatory firework display, which meant leaving the stadium was relatively quick and painless – certainly compared to Wembley or Hampden park, it’s something Europeans just seem to get.
The next day I said goodbye to our travel companions, as they were heading home. Me on the other hand was continuing my holiday, as I headed to Cologne, before seeing my first Bundesliga game in Dortmund.